The Work of Countee Cullen Essay

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Countee Cullen's poetry was extremely motivated by race. He produced poetry that celebrates his African American Heritage, dramatizes black heroism, and reveals the reality of being black in a hostile world. In "Harlem Wine," Cullen reveals how blacks overcome their pain and rebellious inclinations through the medium of music (Shields 907). James Weldon Johnson said that Cullen was always seeking to free himself and his art from these bonds (Shields 905). In "Yet Do I Marvel," Cullen raises questions about the motivation God might have had in making a poet black in bidding him sing in a world that is fundamentally racist and that does not readily accept the creative work of African Americans (Shackleford 1013). Poems such as "Heritage,"…show more content…
Christianity is also a major theme in Cullen's literary work. In some of his greatest poems, he contrasts paganism with Christianity. He realizes his own pagan inclinations and cannot overcome them despite his commitment to a Christian worldview (Shackleford 1012). His poem "Black Magdalen" is about "black magdalens" that are people who hide their pain and wrap their wounds in pride. Unlike Mary Magdalene, they do not have Christ to defend them against the self righteous, judgmental "chaste clean ladies," so they must fend for themselves. This poem, like many other Cullen works, demonstrates his sympathy and identification with the outcast and his criticism of judgmental and provincial Christians. Jean Wagner asserts that "The Black Christ" is a "masterly reconstruction of the poets inner drama," the conflict between disbelief and faith. Wagner argues that the poem reflects Cullen's own reconciliation with Christianity (Shackleford 1013-1016). Cullen's chief problem has been that of reconciling a Christian upbringing with a pagan inclination; this became his pose (Early 170). The form is very definite in most of Cullen's work. The Petrarchan form is suggested in the rhyme scheme of "Yet Do I Marvel." The first two quatrains rhyme abab,cdcd in perfect accord with the Shakespearean scheme. The poem is also essentially divided into the octave, wherein the problem is stated, and the sestet, in which a resolution is attempted. The poem begins with the
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